Bolla Bollana Smelters South Australian History

The Bolla Bollana

During the 1850s South Australians had gone to New South Wales and Victoria to mine gold. Later South Australians invested in some of these and other goldmines. By the 1860s though, Victorians were not only investing in South Australia's copper mines, but some of them even found it profitable to work in them. Several of these copper mines, including the Daly, Stanley and Old Noll's, discovered in the early 1860s, were sold on 14 August 1872. On that day, the South Australian and Victorian Copper and Bismut Mining and Smelting Company Limited, of Ballarat, bought mining leases located in the Far Northern Flinders Ranges. One of these leases included the Stanley mine.

Local waterhole, often used by miners.

The leases and mines were vested in the names of Edward Morey, David Ham, Alexander Cameron MacDonald, surveyor, William Luplau, mining agent, Robert Petrie, also a mining agent and Edmund William Spain, manager. All of them were citizens of Ballarat, except MacDonald who came from Geelong. The first directors to take charge were; Edward Morey, George R. Fincham, George Heathorn, Robert Petrie, David Ham, Alexander Cameron MacDonald and Hampton C. Gleeson.

Immediately after incorporation of the company, Mr Gleeson was appointed temporary on site manager. After all, he knew the area very well. His first task was to visit the company's different leases. On his arrival at the works, late in 1872, he immediately employed some men to test the prospects of the leases. Without exception it was found that the results lived up to the company's expectations. He now ordered the necessary stores up from Port Augusta to supply the men and the mine.

He was soon confronted with some difficult problems, one of which was the supervision of the different mines. Another pressing problem was the great scarcity of miners in the North. This particular problem naturally also applied to other mining ventures in the area. Those miners who were available were hard at work developing new discoveries all over the Northern Flinders Ranges.

At the Daly mine, there was a large stockpile of ore at grass. Meanwhile some excellent fire clay was discovered near Daly's Bluff and arrangements were made for the construction of smelting works at Bolla Bollana. This seemed to be the best site, rather than at one, or all of their individual leases.

The supervision problem was solved with the appointment of Alfred Frost as manager of the Daly mine. As manager of the Daly mine, he devoted great energy, care and attention to establishing the permanency of the apparently enormous supply of copper ore. Only after this was proven beyond doubt, and backed up by the actual sale of ore in Adelaide, was it decided to go ahead with the building of smelting works at Bolla Bollana, about sixteen kilometres away.

An important reason for the final selection of Bolla Bollana was the fact that there was no permanent water or abundant wood near any of the company's mines. Smelters needed both of them in very large quantities, as did the brick kiln. Work on the two furnaces of the smelters was started immediately and it was hoped that it would be completed in about two months.

With the dispersion of the mines and smelting works, it soon became apparent that more supervision was needed, rather than the existing managers wasting time and effort in travelling over almost non-existent tracks between them. For this purpose J.A. Powell of Ballarat was appointed as paymaster with the additional duties of informing the directors in Ballarat of the progress of the works, and handling any other correspondence which needed to be done.

In the meantime several samples of surface deposits from the different leases were sent to the English and Australian Copper Company at Port Adelaide, where it was found that they contained between nineteen-and-a-half and twenty-five percent copper. Samples from the two-fathom level of the Stanley mine returned as much as twenty-five percent copper and it was anticipated that these assays would increase to about forty percent copper at a greater depth.

By February 1873, the original capital of the Company had been reduced substantially. Wages, salaries and directors' fees had taken up about a third of the total outlay during the first six months of operation. Another costly item had been travelling, cartages, and horse-drays. Income during the same six months had only been very little. The money for operating the company came from the shareholders, of whom most had only made part payment for their shares, pending calls made from time to time by the directors.

The first of these calls was made in May 1873, when sixpence per share was required on all scrip held in the South Australian and Victorian Copper and Bismut Mining and Smelting Company. This call, which was widely advertised, appeared in the South Australian Register on 27 May. All payments were to be made before 3 June at the Company's office at Ballarat.

At Bolla Bollana itself though, there was no wheeling and dealings in shares. The men there had other things on their minds. Loneliness, isolation and thirst would have been some of them. They had no freezers or coolrooms. Neither did they have beer, cold or warm. Their nearest hotel was more than one hundred and fifty kilometres south at Sliding Rock or Beltana. Both were a very long walk or ride on horseback over rough country, especially after a week's hard work.

Beautiful as the scenery was, no doubt, they would have had little time for it. Their problem was thirst! No wonder that rumours about sly grog selling were rife in the mining areas, and eventually were reported to the police. On 4 March 1873, Police Trooper Robert Whitbread left far away Mount Freeling police station for Bolla Bollana, to investigate a report of sly grog selling at the smelters. After a lengthy trip and numerous interviews he had to report to his superior in Melrose that he had been unable to obtain sufficient information to make an arrest.

On 3 May 1873, the Bolla Bollana works had different visitors. This time they were Mr Ham and Mr Foreman, both directors of the South Australian and Victorian Copper and Bismut Mining and Smelting Company from Ballarat. They were very disappointed with the progress of the works, especially as there was a huge stockpile of 130 tons of dressed ore from the mines waiting to be smelted. They were informed that some of the problems encountered at Bolla Bollana had been the delay in getting good fire clay for the smelters. Another problem was the scarcity, not only of miners, but also of skilled labour to make firebricks and build the furnaces.

The directors decided that the furnaces should be completed by contract and would be similar to those in use at the Yudanamutana Mining Company's smelters at Blinman. The successful tender for the job was Alfred Frost. His offer was accepted subject to confirmation in Ballarat. The contract included the making of all the firebricks, the building of the furnaces and fire kiln. He was also required to complete the culvert, drying shed and the housing for the furnaces. Frost needed to provide all materials to complete the work, except the roofing material for the furnace-sheds and the ironwork for the furnaces. All this was to be done to the entire satisfaction and approval of the company's supervisor within a period of four months from the acceptance of the tender, subject to one week's trial of smelting as to material and workmanship, before being handed over to the company.

This certainly was a tall order in anyone's language. But this was not all: there was still more to the contract. Frost was to take over all the company's stores that were at Bolla Bollana or en route from Port Augusta. This was priced at cost plus cartage from the port, as part payment of contract and fifty percent of the amount of tender to be held by the company until all the work was completed. At the same time, the directors made provision for an experienced smelter and furnace builder to be sent to Bolla Bollana to superintend the construction.

After the directors had organized as much as they could at Bolla Bollana they decided to visit the company's four mines in the neighbourhood. At the Stanley mine they found eight men and two boys at work, raising and dressing ore. At the Daly mine they observed work in progress on the tunnel being driven about forty metres below the old workings. During the construction of this tunnel, excellent fire clay had been discovered and both Mr Ham and Mr Foreman recommended that additional smelting facilities should be built at the Daly mine. They expected this mine to yield thousands of tons of ore which could be smelted more economically on the spot.

At the Old Noll mine, they found about thirty tons of ore ready to be transported to the Bolla Bollana smelters. When they visited the Sir Dominick mine, which adjoins the Yudanamutana mine, they were informed and shown around by Mr Gundry the mine manager. According to him this mine alone would keep the Bolla Bollana smelters going for years. He had never, in the whole course of his mining experience, seen anything so gigantic as this deposit.

All this good news convinced them that once the furnaces at Bolla Bollana had started, there would be many more men needed there. By the end of October 1873 Alfred Frost had completed the smelters and J.A. Powell was able to advertise in the South Australian newspapers for tenders to deliver three hundred loads of firewood per month, and cart ore from the mines to Bolla Bollana.

During the last few months Police Trooper Whitbread had also kept in touch with the progress at the smelters. Whenever he had to visit the area he realised more and more the business potential of a different nature. He was one of several policemen in the Far North who, during their service, or after resigning from it, had started a business. In 1873 he became the first Postmaster at Mount Freeling and already had pastoral interests as well. Later that same year he started a store at Bolla Bollana. The following year he began to invest in real estate. During the land sales at Sliding Rock in January 1874, he bought town lot No.43 and on 4 February he bought ten town lots at Beltana.

Early May 1874 saw also a change in the management of the smelters, which were now employing more than twenty men. The new captain in charge at Bolla Bollana was Thomas Cornelius, who had been acting captain at Blinman for sometime. While living at Blinman he had been the Superintendent of the local Sunday School, whose members were very sorry to see him leave their town. However, before leaving for his new appointment the teachers and friends met at the house of the Rev. Carter to present a small testimonial to Captain Cornelius in recognition of his service.

During October 1874 work at Bolla Bollana had been stopped even though fresh discoveries of copper were being made all the time. Beautiful specimens in solid lumps were shown at Barnes' Hotel at Blinman. The last copper from the South Australian and Victorian Copper and Bismut Mining and Smelting Company's mines was sold in January 1875, when four tons of ninety-two percent regulus was delivered to the English and Australian Copper Company smelters at Port Adelaide.

Fortunately for the miners and smelters at Bolla Bollana, the closure of the works was only short lived. A new lease of life was granted to them when on 2 April 1875 in Ballarat the Bollna Bollna (sic.) South Australian Mining and Smelting Company Limited was formed. This company bought at auction the four leases from the South Australian and Victorian Copper and Bismut Mining and Smelting Company. Most of the shareholders of this new company were from Victoria, but as with the previous company, there were some familiar names from Adelaide and Port Augusta on the share lists.

Adam Clinton, one of the original promoters, was appointed resident General Manager. He left Ballarat, with a staff of Chinese and Europeans on 24 May 1875 for the mines and smelters in South Australia. The idea of employing Chinese in South Australia was certainly not a new one. As early as September 1872 a proposal was introduced to employ some hundreds of Chinese to work the Daly and Stanley mines.


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